5 Health Symptoms You Should Not Ignore
As life’s responsibilities and circumstances ebb and flow, so do certain elements of our routines. For this reason, it’s normal to have some changes in each area listed below. However, persistent changes and challenges with each symptom can lead to bigger issues—or even indicate an existing problem.
Changes in Sleeping Habits
If you have been struggling to fall asleep, stay asleep, or get quality sleep for some time, then you are well aware of how poor sleep can impact your body and daily life over time. From drowsiness to irritability to difficulty focusing—bad sleep hygiene can really take a toll.
A few suggestions for improving quality of sleep are:
- Develop a consistent sleep schedule
- Remove disruptions, such as lights, screens, and sounds
- Swap out your nightly social media scroll with reading a book instead
- Add stress reduction, such as yoga or meditation, to your bedtime routine
In some cases, changes in sleeping habits are the first indicator that you are struggling with depression.
The relationship between depression and sleep is considered bidirectional, which means they often perpetuate each other. For example, depression can cause problems like insomnia, hypersomnia, and more without the intervention of treatments. On the other hand, poor sleep hygiene can lead to a reduction in mood and worsen symptoms of depression. This can become a vicious cycle for those experiencing depression and changes in sleep, which is why seeking treatment and taking steps to alleviate these issues is so important.
Changes in Appetite
Just like with sleep, changes in appetite are normal here and there, but not for prolonged periods. For instance, it’s common to feel less hungry or not interested in food if you are sick, experiencing physical pain, or grieving a loss. You can also experience a change in appetite that leads to overeating or eating when you aren’t physically hungry. Both scenarios can lead to weight loss or gain—creating additional health challenges as well.
If you are experiencing a loss of appetite, try:
- developing an eating schedule to ensure you are getting nutrients, even if the meals are smaller than usual
- eating meals with family, roommates, or coworkers to encourage yourself not to skip them.
If you find yourself overeating, try:
- mindful eating
- being intentional with healthy portion sizes instead of eating as much as you want
- eating more slowly, and allowing time to pass before getting seconds
- drink a glass of water before each meal and stay hydrated in general
Be aware that the area of your brain associated with food response is also linked with depression, meaning changes in appetite can be a sign that you are experiencing depression.
It’s often the combination of depression symptoms, like fatigue and loss of interest, that perpetuate a decrease in appetite. Others may cope with depression through emotional eating, which occurs when food is used to soothe emotions and improve mood through positive associations with foods.
Whether you are experiencing an increase or decrease in appetite, getting to the root of the issue is crucial for your well-being and can greatly improve your quality of life.
Loss of Energy
Feeling tired and fatigued throughout the day can become a major obstacle to productivity, fulfillment, and quality of life—and can also be a sign of underlying health concerns.
If you are suddenly experiencing lower energy levels than normal, try:
- getting more exercise, which is actually helpful in boosting energy
- to eat foods that give you energy, like whole grains, high-fiber veggies, and other foods with a low glycemic index
- limiting caffeine consumption, especially after 2 p.m.
- to drink more water
If you aren’t finding relief, it may be caused by depression. There are many negative cycles within the depression diagnosis, which is why so many struggle to find relief without the help of a medical professional. Lack of energy feeds into those cycles and can be worsened by other depression symptoms while also contributing to them.
You may attempt to boost energy levels with caffeine, but this doesn’t treat the root cause, and it can worsen other symptoms you may be struggling with.
Unexplained Aches and Pains
Pain is another symptom of depression with bidirectional impacts, meaning chronic pain and depression can perpetuate one another, creating a miserable cycle that feels impossible to get out of on your own. Back pain and headaches can also lead to and worsen other depression symptoms, such as sleeping changes and loss of energy.
The natural fight-or-flight response of humans is believed to contribute to these symptoms because your body is constantly reacting to stress by releasing cortisol or adrenaline. This is an evolutionary response that has helped keep humans safe but can actually work against you in the presence of brain illness.
Again, you may try to relieve the aches and pains with medication, stretching, and other methods of relief, but if it’s not working long-term, then you may need treatment for depression.
Loss of Libido
Your libido is personal and unique to each person, so it’s typically only a concern if fluctuations are causing you distress. Aside from that, it’s natural for your sex drive to fluctuate through different seasons of life, hormone changes, and more.
If it is causing distress, it’s worth talking to a doctor about it as it could be a sign of depression, stress, anxiety, or other underlying issues.
If you think you may be experiencing depression, it may be time to seek professional help. Treatment methods often include Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), which focuses on reframing thoughts and unlearning behaviors, or various antidepressants that work to lift moods and relieve symptoms. Most often, talk therapy and medications are used together.
The most important part of seeking treatment is to be open and honest with your healthcare professional. Talk to them about your symptoms, goals, and any concerns you may have with treatment. It’s also important to communicate any side effects of medication.
If you are interested in seeking depression treatment or speaking with a brain health professional, you can get started with the Find a Provider tool on the Mental Health/Disability Services of the East Central Region’s website.
For more information on depression and other brain health resources, visit ecriowa.org/resources/.